Reading about building stuff

Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings book

A great chance find at the library, lying there on top of a returned-book cart. This isn’t a book review or recommendation, although Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings is a cool browsing volume, full of clear explanations, instructions, and photos. What it did was remind me, as my year of living mainly in town has its effect, how little most of us (I’m talking about the majority of North Americans, at least, living in cities and towns) have to do with actually building things. And how kinda HELPLESS we are, not knowing how to put together and repair the structures we need. I read somewhere that in the 1950′s, around half of the houses in Toronto (so, I assume, in other big cities as well) were built by the owners. Who’d think of doing that now?

The interesting thing is, like growing food, building basic structures IS NOT HARD. For me, working alongside Bob to put up a wood-framed, winterized, 450 sq. ft. barn extension clued me in to that a few years back. Not a huge project, but it was basically a tiny house constructed to withstand cold Canadian winters. We leveled land and poured a concrete pad, built a concrete block retaining wall, framed, installed a metal roof, windows and doors, insulated and wired…everything. Being warm and dry in the middle of winter inside a structure I knew literally down to the nuts and bolts was satisfying and fundamental. Working alongside someone with old-school farmer skills, following his lead, doing whatever he did, made it…simple.

There aren’t that many old-school farmers left to learn from, but we do have books! :)

Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings book detail

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17 Responses to “Reading about building stuff”

  1. Kevin says:

    Hey, have you guys considered branching out into animal husbandry?  We’re thinking about getting four piglets, and I’d love to see you guys do it first so we could learn from your mistakes :).

  2. Hey, great find! I looked it upon Amazon and put it on my wishlist. :)

  3. Sal says:

    Hi Mike,

    Your comment, “There aren’t that many old-school farmers left to learn from…” is something that I think is going to come back to haunt us in the coming decades.  Not to be morbid or anything, but there is a vast store of agrarian skills that are being lost with this old generation of rural people, and I think we are going to need some of these skills. 

    My Grandma, who passed away last year, was a storehouse of old knowledge.  During converations, she would pass on little nuggets of farm lore that she had learned in her day that probably weren’t in any book.  

    Like one day when the power had gone out (2 1/2 days actually) and I lost my batch of eggs in our electric incubator, and she mentioned casually that she used to hatch her chicks in the warmer of the wood cookstove!     

  4. Mike (tfb) says:

    Sal: There’s just no way to simply explain or describe to people who haven’t experienced it, ALL THE THINGS FARMERS KNEW HOW TO DO.

    I was unbelievably lucky to have Bob, a classic Ontario farmer now in his late 50s, on hand every day, tending his cattle on the same farm where I was market gardening, able to help out with whatever I needed. Over six years, I saw the incredible range of practical knowledge he had, but what was really impressive was how he approached everything seamlessly: fieldwork on tractor or by hand (and he was equally adept with workhorses), animal husbandry, plumbing, electrical all the way to the 200A mains coming in to the farm, carpentry and construction, auto mechanics, welding, wells and ponds, taking care of kids (at home, or on a tractor), cooking dinner, and on and on and on, each problem or task approached without any real change of gears.

    It’s an awesome and saddening awareness, when we consider the kind of specialization we live with now. Of course, our advanced technology – microprocessors, custom-formed parts, specialized materials, and so on – has also made a lot of current farm and other gear inaccessible for DIY, but that all goes hand in hand with the knowledge and mindset that’s slipped away… I could go on and on. I know so little, but enough now to have a pretty good idea of what we’re missing in our so-modern high tech culture… Oh well: rant, rant, rant… :)

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  6. Jon says:

    One issue I’ve run into while considering moving to a new location I found the local area was very strict on building codes. They were more harsh toward those that wanted to build their own buildings whether it was a home or a storage building. Many laws today are put in place to encourage spending to stimulate the local economy. Really sucks that sometimes even if we want to become less dependent on others the government is forcing us to rely on others and spend every cent we find.

  7. It is so very true that we are losing “old-school” agrarian skills. We could very well need those skills in the future, depending on what happens over time. Mass production tends not to be very good for the environment.

  8. This is interesting, I think that it is quite important to know to build some simple stuffs that you can do by yourself, without having to pay someone for it. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Michele says:

    Love the barn and always wanted to buy and refinish a barn to live in.  I agree with the previous poster that we are losing knowledge of farming, etc.

  10. Arsenius the Hermit says:

    My home and outbuildings are all log, which is a whole different ball game than framed in buildings. I have to do all my own repairs because I live so far out, I couldn’t hire help if I wanted to. If I don’t fix it, it doesn’t get fixed.  I bought a copy of “Log Home Care and Maintenance ” some years back and it’s been a help.

  11. It’s so sad that old, beautiful barns are being left to fall apart. My dream is to find a house on a few acres with an old barn that my husband and I can rehab.
    Maybe we’ll just build one! Looks like you found a good book for reference.

  12. Mike (tfb) says:

    Arsenius the Hermit: I checked out your blog, read some posts. Your mountain homestead sounds isolated, and good. I took notice of your idea of clan. I wonder if you remember how hard it is to wrap one’s head around the idea of any sort of practical preparedness, without having actually done anything about it. What I mean is, you’ve already taken comparatively gigantic steps, so you can wake up in that reality every day. Trying to think about a substantial degree of self-sufficiency and disengagement, all in your head, with nothing physical to hang on to, is, I think, driving all of us quietly, seriously crazy. How much more can we take? :)

  13. Awesome! this is very interesting!

  14. Kit Shed says:

    Wow! Thanks for this.  I came across the web and found this.  Yeah you were right, We definitely need the ‘old school’ or traditional farmers pass their knowledge to our kids so that the tradition lives.  Good to you and thanks for sharing this to us! Cheers!

  15. Thanks for sharing! I was actually looking for articles about this – I’m glad I came across this site! Please continue posting. :)

  16. Looks like some great reading!

  17. Hi Mike,

    Wonderful find! My wife and I recently moved from the city to a “hobby farm” – 3 acres with an out-building that is in need of some TLC. Your post caught my attention because I too have realized how little I knew about building and working on structures like barns. I will absolutely keep my eye out for that book and compliments to your blog, it might just inspire me enough to get a garden going this year :)

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